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Ample Scrabble
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By Steve Chiotakis. Aired April 20, 2001.

(GARDENDALE, Ala.) -- In most places, Monday night is famous for football. But at the Gardendale Public Library, Monday night features equally fierce competition and judging. For Alabama word wizards, on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month, spelling becomes sport. And it's just as intense. A timer is utilized to keep the game moving. While that timer ticks off the seconds, every player develops a strategy leading to scoring opportunities. Jim Pate actually taught Scrabble and word game classes at UAB. Jim says the root of his love for the game started early� "I enjoy words, and I won a spelling bee when I was in Junior High School and so I guess I was equipped for it from that, perhaps�" So Pate continued to dabble in Scrabble throughout high school and college. He was fascinated by all the words he could learn just by playing around with the tiles, though he still thought nothing more of it than a mere hobby� "�but that was before I found out about clubs and tournaments. After I got out of college in the 70s, I found out about the National Scrabble Association, and made my first trip to a club session in Mobile, Alabama to just see what it was all about. I've been enjoying it ever since." Other Scrabble enthusiasts travel to Gardendale from all over the state� some from as far away as Huntsville and Auburn. And while players don't share hometowns, many do share philosophies and strategies for winning, among other things� "Passion for the game! From the lowest-ranked person to the highest rank, we all have passion for the game." John D. Williams is executive director of the National Scrabble Association and co-author of "Everything Scrabble." He says there really is no typical scrabble player. "If you go to a National Scrabble Tournament, you'll see 600-plus people - every size, shape, color, profession, educational background whatever, they're all doing it. The top people tend to be - uh, skews a little male, skews a little more on the math and computer side - not the language side." Believe it or not, says Williams, the words, while important, can only produce points if the player can strategize on where to put them. Stefan Fatsis agrees. A sportswriter for the Wall Street Journal and regular contributor to NPR, Fatsis has also written a book titled "Word Freak," about Scrabble club members. "Over the years, Scrabble experts have figured out the mathematical variations that yield the best words, so you learn which words are most efficient to study�which letters are most likely to emerge on your rack when you reach into the bag�." If players draw the letter Q without the letter U, no harm done. There are acceptable words like Q-A-T, pronounced cat, and T-R-A-N-Q, or trank. There are even words with no vowels and no consonants. As a self-described addict, Fatsis admits the education is important too, despite the fact that most people don't use QAT - a type of shrub or TRANQ -- short for tranquilizer, in a sentence. "You end up learning thousands and thousands of words that are good for one thing - scoring points on a board during a game - and that's OK." Are those the letters O and K, or O-K-A-Y? Only one of them in acceptable in Scrabble. To win, you have to know which one. And you've got to find the best place for that word on the board. ©2001 WBHM-FM. All Rights Reserved.